In just eight seasons, the late menswear artistic director Virgil Abloh has left an indelible and hugely influential imprint on Louis Vuitton. His final collection, dubbed Louis Dreamhouse, was recently re-staged in a spin-off show in Bangkok – the first of its kind for Vuitton’s men’s collections (topped off with nine newly shown looks on the runway), and perhaps the largest such event by the French luxury brand in Southeast Asia.
The rendition in Bangkok built particularly on the “Boyhood Ideology”, a central tenet of Abloh’s work. Essentially, it’s a position of naivete and openness; the idea that the precipice of coming-of-age happens to be the most creatively fertile. In the running list of terms and definitions that Abloh introduced as a way of recording his expanding creative vocabulary each season, this ideology is described as the sensibility of a child “yet to be affected by the preconceived ideas of society.”
Vuitton’s decision to show in Bangkok pushed this concept a little further with a kind of global, even universal, conception of coming-of-age. To wit, Thai filmmaker Sivaroj Kongsakul was enlisted to create a cinematic prelude to the fashion show. Titled I Dreamt Of You, the dreamy vignette follows an 11 year-old boy’s childhood in rural Thailand.
What that did was set an imaginative headspace for this show. The design of the space included an upside-down house held improbably up by a puff of smoke coming out the chimney; musical instruments like pianos, French horns and saxophones suspended in the air; and a glowing orb like a celestial body that orbited the space. Set design is a powerful thing, and here it has the effect of suggesting imaginative possibilities – like the sense in one’s youth that dreams can indeed come true, that every door is still open to you.
The clothes naturally reflect these open-minded ideals: high-heeled boots, skirts and dresses scoff at masculine and feminine binaries. Supernatural forces like time, magic, death and creation are anthropomorphised into cartoonish, childlike character prints. The sportswear is almost Olympian in the way, it glorifies superhuman athleticism. Silhouettes of Black fashion and culture like hip-hop and Brooklyn haberdashers lovingly luxed up.
Two works of art were wittily chosen for their relation to Abloh’s work and interpreted in the ready-to-wear as prints and tapestries: Gustave Courbet’s 1855 painting The Painter’s Studio, which depicts an artist at work surrounded by the working class on one side and high society on the other – an allegory reflecting the classism and snobbery that Abloh firmly resisted. Giorgio di Chirico’s 1914 work Souvenir d’Italie, also part of a series in which the artist repeatedly painted the same subject, each deliberately dated wrongly – themes of reference and self-reference that Abloh has openly applied to his designs.
It may seem very expansive and imaginative, but taken as a whole, the show was hugely emotional and moving. It’s impossible to divorce the collection’s sense of childhood naivete from the fact that Abloh, who died in November last year, likely designed it with the knowledge that his life was coming to an end. One of his most famous quotes is: “Everything I do is for the 17-year-old version of myself.” That’s not a selfish thing – it’s an act of optimism and wish fulfilment.
For Abloh, that especially represents the significance of the unique path he blazed. Initially an outsider to the world of fashion with a background in industrial design, he carved his own way into the highest echelons of the famously snobby world of luxury fashion. Abloh himself never took lightly the fact that his own life’s arc offered inspiration to other 17-year-olds around the world. Which is, perhaps more so than any single example of design from his prolific body of work and his greatest living legacy.
This article first appeared in the Esquire Singapore July/August 2022 issue.